This article is a part of AniTAY’s Summer 2021 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!
It’s summer! Meaning we need a new sports anime. Let’s do *checks notes* water polo!
Sports fever is at an all-time high in Japan with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics finally under way, and anime is not spared from this hype with RE-MAIN, an original MAPPA project. Though I’m not into sports anime myself, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check it out. Let’s jump in!
After a 203-day car-accident-induced coma, 15-year-old Minato wakes up with the last 3 years wiped out from his memories. Despite the amnesia, including his experiences as a successful middle-school water polo player and recollection of his former friends, Minato decides to distance himself from water polo, considering he’s lost his personal connections to the sport. After much rehab and making up for lost times, he joins Yamanami High School. There, the local water polo team and a mysterious former acquaintance push Minato back into the pool.
RE-MAIN’s first episode begins with Minato ”getting back to the surface,” opening his eyes from his coma to the shock of his younger sister Asumi. This episode frames Minato’s situation as a sequel to a story of which we are not privy, reintroducing both him and viewers to his family, their shop, house, his old water polo team, his supporters, and how much his life was dedicated to the sport. In another context, this is the epilogue of anime in which the MC chooses victory in exchange for memory loss. The “power of friendship” can’t restore lost memories , and RE-MAIN understands that: Minato has no idea who his former self was or what his passion for water polo entailed (besides a ripped body and a library full of water polo books). By making Minato have to start over again (school, physical therapy, friendships), the show makes “our” Minato a new person, placing him directly alongside us as viewers.
The first three episodes quickly introduce us to the main cast and players, from Minato’s family to his new water polo club, all the while hinting at the world of his pre-coma self.
RE-MAIN doesn’t shy away from including the impact of the car accident on Minato’s family, his former relationships begun anew (what’s up with the dent in his room?), and his interactions with his teammates both new and old. The anime doesn’t hit us with complex rules and strategy yet; as the framing suggests, however, we will learn about water polo as Minato rediscovers it. But feel free to refresh your memories on the eggbeater technique if you want.
Minato himself is the typical goofball sports anime high schooler, even if hints at his former self paints a more nuanced picture. As our MC, he rises above his station pretty quickly to get into water polo once again (despite refusing at first to do so). His motivation to get back in the pool is perhaps the plot element the most lacking so far, stemming mostly from a bet his past self made with swimmer Chinu: if we are to believe her, Minato owes her serious money should he not regain his status as Japan’s top high school water polo player. The threat of debt is played for laughs, but Minato taking it seriously makes his motivation odd given the whole amnesia/trauma situation. Neither pure desire to be the number one again, nor a feeling of duty for his family, friends or past self, Minato’s drive is the weakest part of the plot so far.
It does get a bit more interesting when considering the dichotomy within the show’s title: to “remain,” as in stay where you are, or “re-main,” stay yourself (that self being main character for Minato). These questions feed into the “redo” feel of the story, the hero embarking again on the same journey. In the anime itself, the term “remain” is spelled out through water polo’s “Remain” rule violation, which Minato comes across when he first returns to his bedroom. The rule states that a player cannot receive the ball within two meters of the opponent’s goal, so the winning shot has to be taken at a distance of the goal. The anime has yet to deliver more on its significance, and what choices this means for Minato. Whether this ties back into former Minato’s motivation or some secret about his past relationship to his team and the sport, the show doesn’t suggest anything to make sense of the rule so far. There is a potential for a twist and to see if RE-MAIN can deliver something satisfying for Minato and us as viewers.
Where RE-MAIN truly shines in its opening episodes is the extended cast, even if your mileage may vary depending on your favorite anime stereotypes. The Yamanami team leader Jo Jojima is very effective at grounding water polo as a sport for high schoolers, baseball dropout Takekazu steals the show in the second episode with his cocky attitude belying vulnerability, and the other members of the club look like types that can play well in an ensemble story (Yutaka as the gentle boy, Yoshiharu as the shy boy, Shugo as the aloof one). Even the early introduction of Minato’s former teammates (witnessing his amnesia first hand, as he can’t place them anymore) provide potential for future tensions. Only Eitaro irked me a little bit, with his fanboy dedication to Minato, and for weirdly taking over Minato‘s POV in the second episode. This gets better later, as he proves to be the brain of the team. Chinu, the only female character outside of the family so far, remains a mystery and interesting foil for Minato. I hope she doesn’t just stay as a love interest, as she is the one pushing Minato into water polo again, and further complicates the relationship between past and present Minato.
All of the characters of the Yamanami team sound plausible and likeable with compelling (if not super deep) motivations. All seem to stem from a fear to disappoint or be disappointed, and the framing of the team as a method to overcome one’s trauma or evolve as individuals is effective. Issues of bullying and trouble fitting in are on par for high school anime, so I’m curious to see if and how RE-MAIN expands on these topics of trauma and allows its characters to grow.
MAPPA, as always, is doing a great job with RE-MAIN’s art and animation. The OP and later episodes make the water and the players within them stylized and very pretty, with splashes, wet shirts, and dynamic visuals throughout. The characters’ design makes them all recognizable and appropriately color coded. My only complaint is that the character’s faces look a bit stiff at times. The slick style does break sometimes with moments when Minato provides explanations about his situation via chibi-esque, an odd design choice given his age and that drawing is never mentioned as one of his nor anyone’s hobbies.
RE-MAIN packs an interesting set up, an enjoyable cast, and competent animations. The story draws viewers in with Minato into learning more about pushing past obstacles, getting to terms with the ones in front of us, and, of course, water polo. I doubt the show will make much splashes outside of its own pool, but it should be an enjoyable summer anime to distract from the heat. Sports anime fans will probably bemoan the lack of exciting water action so far, but the rest should find it more palatable for its focus on characters and light mystery plot. I certainly am betting on that for the rest of the season.
Based on: original anime
Directed by: Kiyoshi Matsuda (Banana Fish, Kakegurui XX)
Written by: Masafumi Nishida (Tiger & Bunny, Tesla Note)
Produced by: MAPPA (Attack On Titan: Final Season, Jujutsu Kaisen)
Streaming on: Funimation
Episodes watched: 3
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